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I’m Confused

April 25, 2012

By now you must have heard the latest trumpeting about the triumphs of social networking.  We are being reminded of the power of one person with a Facebook account as we read the news about Starbucks’ announcement that they will no longer used crushed beetles as a food coloring agent in some of their beverages.

Never has a tidbit of news unleashed so many questions. 

First of all, who knew that Starbucks used a food colouring extracted from crushed beetles?  The cochineal beetle of Latin America has been used for years as a dyeing agent.  I saw a picture of someone squishing one and the result is bright red goo.  Starbucks was using the carmine dye extracted from the beetle to give strawberry Frappuccino’s and smoothies their pink color and also to make the swirls in raspberry swirl cake nice and red.

The second question, of course, is why, if these Frappuccinos, smoothies and swirl cakes are made of strawberry and raspberry, do they need to be colored red?  Answer?  They don’t actually have strawberries and raspberries in them—it’s all done with flavour chemicals which aren’t naturally red.

Anyway, vegans decided that consuming squished beetle extract wasn’t consistent with their philosophy.  So they started an on line campaign to get Starbucks to cease and desist.

One wonders whether it might have been easier to simply cease and desist from having strawberry smoothies at Starbucks in order to maintain one’s vegan integrity.  After all, vegans give up a lot of things already.  And not only that, this Starbuck’s stuff is the tip of the iceberg—according to the articles I read, you’d be surprised at the variety of foods and drinks beetle juice finds its way into.  So you’re probably eating a lot of it without even knowing it.

My first reaction when I read this story, like almost everyone else I guess, was to go “Yuck,” and move on with life.  But then I started wondering. 

Starbucks has said that it will use a tomato-based dye called lycopene instead of the carmine dye.  Why would a company like Starbucks change its recipes to make vegans happy?  No one knows for sure how many vegetarians there are in the world, much less vegans.  Some unscientific internet research indicates that the number of vegans is approximately 0.2% of the global population. 

So when a big company makes a change to accommodate 0.2% of the population, you have to ask yourself whether there is something else going on.

I remember one time—long before the internet, so it never got out of hand—someone started a rumor that McDonald’s burgers were made out of worms rather than beef.  It got to the point where McDonalds felt it necessary to issue a statement in which they refreshingly pointed out that worms were more expensive than beef so there’s no way they would use them.

I don’t know if the carmine dye is cheaper or more expensive than the tomato dye and I certainly don’t know all of the factors that went into Starbuck’s decision.  But the more I think about it, the less I care why they did it. 

I’m no vegan but I think this is a good thing.  Vegans don’t eat animal products because they think it’s wrong to kill other creatures when there are perfectly good alternative foods available.

And speaking of alternative foods, consider the strawberry Frappuccino.  It’s really a strawberry flavoured Frappuccino.  It doesn’t have any strawberries in it.  Just a bunch of chemicals that taste like strawberries when mixed together into a (probably) carcinogenic soup.  I don’t know what color that potion is, but I’m guessing it’s not pink, so it has to be dyed, and beetle extract dye up until now was the coloring of choice.

The beetle might not be sentient, cute and fuzzy, or otherwise useful, but doesn’t it deserve better than to exist in order to fool us into thinking that the chemicals we are consuming are the real thing?

Yum Yum!

20 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2012 10:48 pm

    I’ve been a vegetarian ever since it was brought to my attention that steaks were, in fact, chunks of slaughtered cattle.

    As to Starbucks making changes to accommodate 0.2% of the population, methinks the percentage might be a lot higher than that, as I’m sure most non-vegans are none to crazy about ingesting bugs and bug products. Even the hungriest first-world carnivore, I presume, would choose steamed tofu over fried beetles.

    • April 26, 2012 9:20 am

      I can speak to that as I’ve had both steamed tofu and fried beetles (well actually crickets). Both are fairly tasteless but the advantage of tofu is that it doesn’t have legs! You’re probably right that the preferences of the general population weighed more heavily in the decision.

  2. April 25, 2012 11:09 pm

    What do they use to dye their coffee brown ? Ahem.

  3. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    April 25, 2012 11:29 pm

    I’d like us to save our outrage over something far more significant, such as why the tobacco companies don’t have to disclose the thousands of toxic chemicals they put in their products or the ghastly amount of sodium in fast food.

    • April 26, 2012 9:22 am

      Yes. From what I read, the irony is that Starbucks used to use artificial coloring and switched to the beetles as a more healthy option.

  4. April 26, 2012 1:47 am

    The McDonald’s rumor is still going around. Thing 1 (the 12-year-old) came home from school a couple weeks ago talking about how awful McDonald’s hamburgers are because they aren’t really made of meat. She said her best friend at school told her Big Macs contain only 4% meat, which is why they never rot. When I questioned the science of this, Thing 1 responded, “So, you’re calling my friend a liar?” Sigh.

  5. April 26, 2012 3:49 am

    I didn’t know Mc Donald’s hamburgers never rotted. But then I’ve been a vegetarian for a couple of decades too and didn’t eat that stuff even before I quit meat entirely.

    Until people start refusing en masse to eat “food products,” versus actual food, there are going to be news stories like this. Every time I pass a Starbucks, nearly bowled over by the concentrated fumes of caffeine and sugar — you can practically get a buzz — I think of the irony of America’s War On Some Drugs.

    I just hope no one mixes up the cochineal beetle with cantharides.

  6. April 26, 2012 8:59 am

    blimey!! who knew!! beetles in my frappachino? urgh! well there you go, no more Starbucks ‘strawberry’ frappachinos for me then. I will stick to coffee until I find out what nasties are being condensed into my beverage. Mind you, I think that all these weird and wonderful things are the result of the fast-food society we live in today. Although if what you say is history then it would appear that we have been ingesting beetle goo for a very long time…I recall bottles of cochineal in my Mother’s cupboard for making icing on cakes et al. hmmmm……

  7. April 27, 2012 1:45 am

    I usually don’t go to Starbucks, cause I’d rather save some bucks and brew my own. The beetles don’t bother me so much as long as they are organic. 🙂

  8. May 1, 2012 4:33 pm

    If Starbucks was using crushed beetles all this time, it makes you wonder what else they’re including that customers would find disgusting. I didn’t even know I needed to wonder about my coffee including crushed beetles.

  9. Barry123432 permalink
    May 28, 2012 4:52 pm

    Well, whatever the contents, one can assume that you are getting quite a lot of nutrients and protein from them, as long as they taste good, I am happy…

  10. Cathy permalink
    May 28, 2012 4:53 pm

    Barry123432, you speak the truth brother, more protein = happy me (oh and good taste too)

  11. Roger permalink
    May 28, 2012 4:55 pm

    Woah, I am liking this, I have been an avid meat eater for the 65yrs of my life, and will always love meat….you know back in my day we used to eat it straight from the cow, none of this processed stuff….meat = happy me

  12. I love Meat permalink
    May 28, 2012 4:57 pm


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